Meditation, Week 3
Spring has felt more like summer in the Pacific Northwest this week, so my family and I have been spending a lot of time out on the back deck soaking in the sunshine. A couple of days ago I was sitting outside reading and got up to come inside just as my nine-year-old son, Ben, was coming out to tell me something. We ended up standing a talking for a moment about whatever it was, and as we turned to come back in the house, Ben startled me when he suddenly exclaimed “Mama, look!”
Turning and expecting to see some problem I would have to deal with (usually the cause of such exclamations), I was surprised to realize he was pointing to the trees. The leaves are that beautiful bright shade of spring green right now, and the angle of the sun at that moment was catching the leaves in a way that made them particularly brilliant, with a light breeze moving the leaves just enough to enhance the sparkling effect. He reached out to hold my hand, and we stood silently for a minute, admiring the view.
This was one of those rare and precious parenting moments when I had the feeling “Hey, I’m really on the right track here.” You see, I have an addiction that I wasn’t even aware of until fairly recently that would have previously made this moment unlikely, and I’ve been working hard to recover from it. No, not alcohol, not drugs, not gambling – the addiction tohurrying. For years now, even in situations when I’m not under any time pressure to get someplace or meet some sort of deadline, I still hurry, rushing myself and everyone else along to do whatever we’re doing quickly so we don’t waste any time.
The irony of the situation, in retrospect, is that even though I’ve had a regular meditation practice for a while now, remaining mindful throughout the day is still a challenge. Regularly hurrying through my days, I know that I’ve rushed past many potential moments of connection like the one I had looking at the leaves with Ben, which is really the whole point of meditation and mindfulness, right? Being in the present moment. And what’s more, given that energy and emotions are contagious, I’ve also been infecting my family with my “hurry up” energy.
But lately I’ve been practicing being more mindful throughout the day, and I’ve been trying to help my kids do this, too. Just role-modeling mindfulness would not be enough, however, because implicit learning, or learning without the awareness that we’re learning something, is fairly weak. So, I’ve been talking to the boys a lot about mindfulness, and I’ve also made a habit of saying out loud things like, “Wow, I’m feeling a little scattered here. Let me take a breath and try to focus.” Much better than snapping at everyone to be quiet, or hurry up! In short, I’ve been developing my mindful parenting skills.
So what does it mean to mindfully parent? Mindfulness, as described by Dr. Dan Siegel, is “paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, without grasping onto judgments.” Which means that we can think of mindful parenting as the practice of intentionally bringing purposeful awareness to everyday parenting situations in order to cultivate and deepen the parent-child connection. And there is a clear benefit to mindful parenting, too – a significant and growing body of research showing that kids who are deeply connected to their parents demonstrate higher levels of:
- Confidence to explore and experiment
- Communication skills with people of all ages
- Academic performance
- Adaptability to change
“Making the choice to exercise restraint, empathy, compassion and even-handedness time and time again is how these qualities become habitual in both parent and child. When our kids see us being kind to others, we’re both practicing kindness ourselves and modeling it for them; when they watch us exercise patience while waiting our turn in the grocery line or when stuck in traffic, we’re both modeling patience to our kids and practicing it ourselves.”
So in addition to role modeling mindfulness, how can we teach it to our kids? How can we become mindful families? Here are a few ideas:
- If you meditate, practice where your kids can see you. Never force them to join, and don’t even say anything about it. Just let them be curious and ask on their own.
- Create mindful moments. Finding opportunities to be mindful is simple, no matter how busy you are, because mindfulness can be woven into common daily experiences (see some suggestions in “Activities” below). When you’re feeling overwhelmed or distracted by your own emotions, name the feeling you’re having, and say what you’re doing (out loud if your kids are nearby). For example, “I’m so frustrated – I didn’t expect this traffic and I’m worried we’re going to be late. I need to take a breath and calm down.”
- Focus on the small stuff. It’s the small moments that matter, not the big exciting ones. Pointing out an interesting cloud, or sitting quietly together having a snack – these are the experiences that make your kids feel connected.
- Give your undivided attention. This is what your kids want (even teenagers!) more than anything. Let them choose the moment, and be ready to seize the opportunity when it arrives. Make eye contact, listen more than you speak, and stay as open as possible — no judging! Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it matters.
Activities for Meditation, Week3
This week’s activities have been selected to help you:
- Practice incorporating mindfulness into your regular daily routine,
- Share your meditation and/or mindfulness practice with your kids,
- Experience other forms of meditation, including an eating and walking.
When you have five minutes…
1. On your own: Sign up for “interrupters” from Mindful. You can choose to have regular “mindful interruptors” sent to you by Twitter or email that remind you to be aware of your present moment. An example of one: “Get out of your chair. Stand up straight. Slowly bend forward from your waist. Let your hands dangle and your head drop. Ah.”
2. With your child: Try an eating meditation (a classic!). Here’s the process, as described by Christopher Willard in “A Child’s Mind”. All you need are some grapes (or raisins are often used, too):
“…study the grapes for a few minutes, examining them in the light, playing with them in your fingers, bringing them to your lips… notice if you salivate. Then, gently, without biting into it, place the grape on your tongue, and notice any urges that come up. Notice what your tongue and mouth do, or want to do, as you taste the grape. When you are ready, bite into the grape, noticing the flavors and textures. How is your stomach feeling? And the rest of your body? After swallowing, notice any left over flavor remaining in your mouth… and thoughts in your mind.”
When you have 15 minutes…
1. On your own: Watch this 10 minute video with Susan Kaiser Greenland talking about how to incorporate mindfulness practices into your child’s life. Think about mindfulness activities you would like to include in your schedule this week.
2. With your child: Find one opportunity to give each child your undivided attention. Wait until they seem to be interested in talking about something, and be prepared to stop whatever your doing to give them your full and undivided attention.
When you have 30 minutes or more…
1. On your own: Do a walking meditation. There are different ways to do walking meditations, and this is a simple set of instructions for one form from Mindful. As they describe it: “This one relies on a pace that is close to how we might walk in everyday life, and in fact it can be adapted for walking in the street—just as long as you remember to pay attention to street lights, other people, and not looking like a zombie.”
2. With your child: Do a body scan (great to do before going to bed!) Here’s how:
- Lie down on a bed or some other comfortable place.
- Take a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply; feel gravity pulling you down.
- When you’re ready, bring your awareness to your face, including your eyes, nose, and mouth, and squeeze your face muscles together as tightly as you can, holding for a count of 10.
- Release and breathe.
- Bring your awareness to your neck and shoulders. Squeeze these muscles, bringing your shoulders as close to your ears as possible for a count of 10.
- Release and breathe.
- Continue moving down your body, progressively tightening and releasing the muscles in your arms and hands, abdomen, buttocks, thighs and calves, and finally feet, holding each for 10 beats.
- Relax and breathe deeply.
Want to learn more? Go further? There are several great books that I highly recommend, two of which include CDs with guided mindfulness and meditation exercises. You can click on the titles below to transfer to the “Teach Your Own” store at Amazon, read descriptions of each, and order any that are of interest.
- The Mindful Child, by Susan Kaiser Greenland
- The Whole-Brain Child, by Dr. Dan Siegel
- Building Emotional Intelligence, by Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman (includes CD)
- Planting Seeds, by Thich Nhat Hanh (includes CD)
- Child’s Mind, by Christopher Willard
When mindfulness embraces the ones we love,
they bloom like flowers.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh